That the government ‘may’ have broken sewage laws comes as no surprise - our waterways are regulated by shoddy authorities
The government ‘may’ have broken the law over sewage spills and I’m sure that does not come as a surprise to anyone
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The sewage scandal here in the UK really does seem never ending.
Whether it’s more reports of beaches closed due to sewage, people getting ill from swimming in the sea, or water companies fined thousands - raw waste is still continued to be spilled into our rivers and seas.
And now, it has been found by an investigation that the government may have broken the law over sewage spills.
I’m sure that does not come as a surprise to anyone.
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has identified possible failures to comply with environmental law by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency and Ofwat in relation to the regulation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
The three public authorities have been accused of allowing sewage discharges to occur “more often” and going against the law which states sewage can only be discharged during exceptional circumstances such as heavy rainfall.
All of the authorities in question have been found to be interpreting this legislation “differently”.
How are the government authorities, that are supposed to be keeping our rivers and seas clean and safe for us to swim, constantly getting away with ‘misinterpretations’ of the law?
Why are they consistently getting away with this? It’s not right and it should not be happening.
Eleven years ago, back in 2012, the EU Commission took the government to the European Court of Justice over allowing water companies to dump sewage into rivers.
The court ruled that it was illegal and that sewage overflows should only ever be used in “exceptional situations”, which could include ‘unforeseen circumstances’.
Water companies were doing it 11 years ago and they are still doing it now.
The OEP found ‘possible’ failures. But with the revelations and scandals unveiled in the past weeks, let alone the past few months and years, it is clear that the authorities have not been doing their job.
Just last week a BBC investigation found water companies had discharged sewage illegally last year during dry weather.
According to the investigation, Thames, Wessex and Southern Water all released sewage when it was not raining for 3,500 hours in 2022, a total of 388 times - in breach of their permits.
Last month, new analysis of 2022 Environment Agency data by the Liberal Democrats showed that 112 sewage monitors in England’s bathing waters were faulty - an increase on 2021, when 88 of the monitors were broken.
From these broken sewage monitors, raw waste could be being spilled out during dry weather or even when it has rained a little - and no one would know.
Campaigners are fighting day in and day out for our rivers and seas to be protected from the lack of urgency and lack of care from our public authorities.
Even the investigation into Ofwat, Defra and the Environment Agency that has been announced today was due to a complaint brought forward by WildFish - the only independent charity in the UK campaigning for wild fish and their environment.
The public are outraged and we are tired quite frankly of the lies, the fines that even though they are issued don’t seem to stop the water companies, and all of the excuses and ‘misinterpretations’.
The OEP has issued Information Notices to Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency and they have two months to respond.
Let’s hope this time they get a little more than a slap on the wrist.
How many more times can campaigners and the public demand that authorities be held accountable for their wrongdoings and for putting the health of the public in danger.
The government can set out its ‘Plan for Water’ and invest in our sewer networks. That is welcome, albeit not the rise to water bills as a result, but these initiatives mean nothing if the authorities and its own departments continue to break the law and get away with it.
We all want to see an end to disgusting sewage discharges in our rivers and seas, and to see the public authorities that are breaking the law and allowing this to happen to be held accountable.